COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) – First lady Michelle Obama on Monday applauded more than 200 U.S. servicemen for their courage as she helped open the 2012 Warrior Games, a six-day sports competition for wounded soldiers and veterans in Colorado Springs.
The U.S. Olympic Committee is hosting the third annual games, featuring active-duty soldiers and veterans in competitions ranging from swimming to shooting to track and field. The opening ceremony was held Monday at the U.S. Olympic Training Center. For the first time, the British armed forces sent an 18-member contingent.
Mrs. Obama told the athletes that they are an inspiration for all Americans.
“Every competitor here has faced adversity that most of us can never imagine,” she said. “No matter how seriously you are injured, no matter what obstacles or setbacks you face, you just keep moving forward.
“You just keep pushing yourselves to succeed in ways that just mystify and leave us all in awe,” she said.
Mrs. Obama has taken a special interest in the welfare of war veterans and their families. Along with Vice President Joe Biden’s wife, Jill Biden, Mrs. Obama recently marked the anniversary of their own campaign, Joining Forces, which aims to help veterans and their families, especially with getting jobs.
“I want you to know that America does have your back,” Mrs. Obama said.
She was joined by U.S. Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and U.S. Olympic Committee chairman Scott Blackmun.
Track and field competitor Ivan Castro – blinded by a 2006 mortar attack near Baghdad – welcomed the first lady’s appearance.
“It goes to show that from the top down, everybody is involved with our service members,” said Castro, an Army Special Forces captain stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C.
Mrs. Obama also met Monday with volunteers for President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign. Colorado, along with Arizona, where she was traveling later Monday, are key states in the presidential election.
Retired Army 1st Lt. Melissa Stockwell and Capt. Simon Maxwell of the British Royal Marines served as torch bearers at the games’ opening ceremony.
Stockwell was awarded a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart after she lost her left leg in a 2004 roadside bombing in Baghdad. A triathlete, she is a Paralympian who swam at the Beijing games in 2008.
“It’s become a way of life,” Stockwell said. “It makes me feel whole again.”
Maxwell was wounded by an improvised explosive device while on patrol in Helmand Province in Afghanistan.
Castro, the army captain, said that developing a physical routine was the only way he could end a 15-pill prescription he took three times a day. His injuries were so bad he first had to learn how to walk again.
A year after the mortar attack, Castro completed his first marathon – holding a piece of string tied to a guide who ran alongside him.
The Warrior Games are one way service members can support each other, said Castro, who wears a black and silver bracelet with the names of two soldiers from his unit who perished in the mortar attack.
“There may be some trash talking,” he said. “At the end of the day, we’re all here for one mission, and that’s to push each other along and to motivate and inspire.”
– By REMA RAHMAN, Associated Press
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